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Students who are unhoused get a gleam of hope in their eyes

Dozens of students at the Monarch School in Barrio Logan have a much clearer view of the world, tonight. They have new eyeglasses. KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez tells us about this gift that improves learning for children who are living unhoused right now.

The Monarch School is a San Diego institution known for almost 35 years for supporting children and their families who find themselves without a home.

Tuesday and Wednesday, the VSP Eyes of Hope mobile eye clinic parked out front of the school, providing free exams and new prescription eyeglasses to children who need them. Jessica, a Monarch 6th grade student, was one of them.

“I like being able to see what everyone else is seeing because with glasses I can, and I can see and do a lot of things that I couldn’t really do before,” she said.

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M.G. Perez
Jessica is a 6th grade student at the Monarch School in Barrio Logan. After a free eye exam, she tried on glasses to find a good fit and frame she likes. San Diego, CA, March 16, 2022.

Dr. Robert Meisel is the optometrist who has led this miracle-making operation for 14 years, with support from the San Diego County Optometric Society. Although he is retired, he has maintained his medical license to keep helping students in need of improving their vision.

He said, “If they have a hard time processing, it’s because sometimes the eyes don’t work together or they are struggling because their eyes don’t match. It becomes a real challenge for a student.”

According to Dr. Meisel, 80% of what students learn through eyesight. So, regular examinations are really important. All 300 students at the Monarch School received examinations and free glasses if needed. That includes students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Jessica’s classmate Desire had her first eye exam ever on Wednesday. She hopes new glasses will help her see things clearly.

“Sometimes when I look at the TV and there’s something small to read, I’m like, ‘What is that?’ I can’t read what it is.”

Desire decided a pair of green camouflage frames was the best look for her.

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M.G. Perez
Desire is a 6th grade student at the Monarch School in Barrio Logan. She received an eye exam and her first pair of glasses. San Diego, CA, March 16, 2022.

Chuy Nuñez is the Monarch School’s athletic director. He has been on the staff for 18 years and helps supports students wherever he can. He worked with the eye clinic program this week translating for Spanish to English for parents and students.

Nuñez has seen many success stories with the free eye clinic. He said, “The visual part of learning is so important, whether in athletics or a math or science class. You see the confidence and a different level of engagement and because of that the students can flourish.”

The VSP Eyes of Hope mobile clinic had not visited the campus since March 2020 following the COVID-19 shutdown. Volunteer optometrists will be back in October for follow-up visits. The will also offer exams and eyeglasses to parents of Monarch students.